Colloquium: Oana David (University of California, Merced)

Event Date: 

Thursday, February 22, 2018 - 3:30pm

Event Location: 

  • South Hall 3605

Speaker: Oana David (University of California, Merced)

Topic: "Cancer is a tumultuous journey: A cross-linguistic analysis of metaphor"

Reception: All are invited to a reception following the talk


Cancer is a tumultuous journey: 

A cross-linguistic analysis of metaphor

Oana David

University of California, Merced



The metaphoric construal of cancer has drawn a lot of recent attention in linguistics (Demmen et al. 2015). Because multi-lingual studies of illness metaphors are rare, I seek to address several open questions about potent cancer metaphors such as CANCER IS A JOURNEY and CANCER IS A WAR, the latter of which has been shown to be detrimental to patient morale (Hauser & Schwarz 2015). First, to what extent are these metaphors found in languages other than English? Second, should the negative feelings associated with CANCER IS WAR be attributed to language-independent conceptual metaphor, or is there something about the language’s lexicogrammatical structures that generate negative affect?

To address these questions I present two studies. Study 1 is a computer-aided investigation of cancer metaphors in a custom-made corpus of English and Spanish patient blogs. This investigation reveals not only cross-linguistic, but also gender differences in how metaphors are employed in first-person narratives. Study 2 is an experiment using vignettes that manipulate the argument structure of sentences conveying violence metaphors in English and Spanish (e.g., the cancer attacked John vs. John attacked cancer). Results indicate that the grammar, rather than the metaphor itself, is yielding effects suggestive of differing degrees of pessimism regarding health outcomes.




Demmen, J., Semino, E., Demjén, Z., Koller, V., Hardie, A., Rayson, P., & Payne, S. (2015). A computer-assisted study of the use of Violence metaphors for cancer and end of life by patients, family carers and health professionals. International Journal of Corpus Linguistics, 20(2), 205–231.

Hauser, D. J., & Schwarz, N. (2015). The war on prevention: Bellicose cancer metaphors hurt (some) prevention intentions. Personality & Social Psychology Bulletin, 41(1), 1–12.